Holyfield: Fear of Tyson no factor 10-1 underdog vows he will make it a fight

November 09, 1996|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

LAS VEGAS — "Fear is your best friend and worst enemy. It's like fire. If you can control it, it can heat your house. If you can't control it, it will burn everything around you and destroy you." -- Cus D'Amato, Mike Tyson's late manager.

LAS VEGAS -- Learning to control his fear was one of the most important lessons a teen-aged Mike Tyson learned from Cus D'Amato in his formative years as a fighter while being raised as D'Amato's surrogate son in Catskill, N.Y.

Employing his intimidating presence in and out of the ring, Tyson won recent title fights against Frank Bruno and Bruce Seldon virtually before the opening bell had sounded.

As promoter Don King noted, "These guys want to fight Tyson and become millionaires. They talk a lot of crap before the fight like, 'I'm not scared, I've sparred 300 rounds, I'm ready.' But when they find themselves face to face with Tyson, they say, 'I don't know about the wisdom of this decision.' "

But tonight's challenger, two-time former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, is a different breed.

As a 10-to-1 underdog and showing serious signs of wear and tear in recent brawls with Riddick Bowe and Bobby Czyz, Holyfield, if anything, could prove too brave in testing a younger, more powerful foe.

"Everybody has a character check at some point in their life, when they're in the ring and afraid," said Holyfield, who remembered two occasions when he faced serious self-doubts.

"The first time," he said, "was when I was 14 and fighting a guy with a mustache. In my mind, I figured he was supposed to win. I slipped after a half-punch, but the referee counted me out. I learned the fear of getting hit was worse than the reality.

"The only other time it happened to me was my first fight with Dwight Qawi 10 years ago.

"That was my first championship fight -- a 15-rounder -- and I tended to have stamina problems back then. I'd never fought anyone as tough as him, and I was worried about running out of gas. But once the fight started, I got over it and I haven't experienced it since."

When Tyson and his entourage employed threats and scare tactics in the pre-fight buildup, Holyfield neither blinked nor quivered.

"Whatever they're doing won't work," he said. "When Tyson looks in my eyes, he don't see fear. Fear is what makes you lose a fight, but it ain't in me to fear. I'm confident in my ability. Tyson ain't been no place I haven't been -- outside of jail."

Tyson also experienced anxiety attacks as an amateur boxer, but, unlike a Bruno or Seldon, he learned to master his emotions.

Teddy Atlas, currently training International Boxing Federation champion Michael Moorer, served as Tyson's mentor in the early '80s, standing in for the aged D'Amato in molding Tyson's ferocious ring style.

"Not everybody deals with emotions the same way," said Atlas. "It's what I call 'ring character,' which depends heavily on the degree of desire and discipline you have.

"With Bruno and Seldon, their imaginations became stronger than their wills when they faced Tyson. Seldon got $5 million, and that allowed him to tell himself, 'There's an option here,' and he took the easy way out.

"Bruno also got a big payday, and when there's no urgency, the only thing left to stimulate you is pride and character.

"That's not something you develop in training camp a month before a fight. It's something you develop years before you put on gloves. It's part of your manhood."

It was the early preachings of D'Amato and Atlas that helped convert an uncertain Tyson into boxing's most feared warrior.

"Everybody is afraid at one time or another, and Mike Tyson is no different," said Atlas. "I saw Mike cry before a couple of his amateur fights. It was documented at the Junior Olympics in Colorado Springs by a German cameraman who was shooting a film called "Watch Me Now" for PBS."

More traumatic was the night a 15-year-old Tyson found himself fighting a stubborn, awkward opponent in Scranton, Pa.

"Mike dropped him twice in the first round, but this kid did something none his other opponents had done," Atlas said. "He got up, and that made Mike panic.

"He came back to the corner, complaining that his hand was broke. But it was his spirit, not his hand. I knew he was just looking to quit.

"I pushed him out of the corner, and Mike dropped the guy again in the second round. When he got up and fought back a bit, Mike acted like he was being hit by Joe Louis. At the end of the round, he wanted me to cut off his gloves.

"I told him, 'You're always talking about doing something with your life and becoming a champion. Well, this here is your first championship fight. The other guy can barely go on, and you're thinking of quitting.'

"He went out for the last round, but when the other kid wrestled him into our corner, I could see Mike wanted to go down. I took a chance on getting disqualified and jumped up on the ring apron. I yelled at Mike, 'Don't do it!' and he kind of froze. And he held on to win the decision."

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